Alaska Native art and the use of baleen in basket weaving is so interesting in that its seems so implausible to look at a beautifully woven basket and think it was made from whale. Baleen is a flexible type material found in the mouth of certain whales, it is a filter used to separate food from water in whales that have no teeth. (Wikipedia, Baleen)
Pictured below is a photograph of a baleen whale with its mouth opened and baleen showing.
Baskets were originally made by Inupiat Alaska Natives males, in order to sell to tourists visiting Alaska. The very first baleen basket weaver is said to be a man named Kinguktuk who lived in Barrow, Alaska and made his first baskets in 1914. (wikipedia, baleen basketry)
Displayed at the Museum of Man, San Diego, CA
The above piece by Kingutuk does not have a published date that it was made but it had to be somewhere between 1914 and the 1930’s. It’s amazing to see this early work baleen weaving is so meticulous.
Baleen basket with an ivory polar bear and seal handle, made by George Omnik, Point Hope, Alaska
This piece by Omnik was made sometime before the1970’s and is interesting to see a different type of weave, much larger and more open then previous pieces. The ivory handle is also very large.
As the tradition of baleen basket weaving continued its became more popular to see women weavers as well is men. The basket below is a modern piece made in 2000 by a female weaver. I find this piece to be much more modern with its dark black color and very tight weave. Also the very distinct color block with the contrasting white stripe through the center of the basket and the lid.
Wikipedia: Baleen Basketry Web, April 25, 2015
Wikipedia: Baleen Web, April 25, 2015